The invention and adaptation of vertical transportation – otherwise known as the elevator – in the 1850s changed the face of architecture, space design, and apartment living forever. Unfortunately, like any mechanical system, every so often elevators must undergo a major repair, refurbishment or replacement. If you live on the first, second, third, or even the fourth floor, that’s an inconvenience, but perhaps not a life-changing event. If you live on the 20th floor, or live with a disability...well that’s a different story.
Elevator Components and Their Maintenance
According to the pros, it’s not the entire system or even the elevator cab that will necessarily need replacement or refurbishment. “You replace the components,” says Jacquelyn Duggan, an account executive with Gumley Haft Property Management in New York City. You might have to replace the cables, the control board, or upgrade other mechanisms, she explains.
Elevators are composed of lots of moving parts. According to the website elevatorsource.com, the component parts of an elevator include the electrical switchgear; wiring; controller/dispatcher; cab interior; machinery; shaft doors and shaftway; hoist rails; cables; hydraulic pistons; call stations; and operating panels. These components have useful lives ranging from 15 years for an elevator cab interior to 50-plus years for elevator switchgear. Most of the components have useful lives of between 20 and 25 years.
“Twenty years is the rough approximation for the life of elevator mechanicals, though there are many variables,” says Eveline Smythe, an executive manager with AKAM On-Site, the managing agent for The Tides condominium community in Hollywood, Florida. “Any time you do any kind of significant upgrade – like a mechanical upgrade – you may not be doing an entire modernization, which requires upgrading the cables, and a whole lot of other things. But, if you do a portion of the work at a time, it can significantly increase the life of the machinery overall. Alternatively, if you haven’t touched the elevator machinery at all, the useful life is about 20 years.”
In many buildings, particularly older ones, the cab interiors often reflect the specific design and architectural styles of the time when the building was built. Some may look like a ‘lift’ out of the early 20th century, evoking scenes set in Paris or London. Others developed in the Art Deco period of the 1930s are reminiscent of classic old Hollywood films. Still others recall the post-modern period of the 1950s and 1960s with their sleek lines and clean, metallic form. For many residents and board members, this unique statement about their building may be the single item they most want to retain and maintain. “Often cabs are artistically relevant,” says Duggan, “and residents want to keep them.” Retaining that look may add another dimension to an elevator project, requiring a designer to restore the cab to its former aesthetic glory.